ELYRIA — The space between Avon and North Ridgeville in the West Shore Conference race was razor thin. The programs matched each other’s regular-season performance, were tied after the tournament semifinals and the Eagles led by just two points going into the placement matches Saturday night.
That’s when Avon turned on the jets and never looked back, cruising to its second WSC title in the last three years.
“We won nine out of 10 matches in the placement round,” Avon coach Mark Porter said. “We just peaked in that round and it was really great to see all that hard work pay off.
“Even the one we lost — Frank Rizzo — he really closed the gap on that kid. He was majored in a dual with them … so these are the measurable things we wanted to see.”
The Eagles blew away the field with five individual champions — Kolin Carney at 106 pounds, Max Kuchenrither at 132, Adam Kirresh at 138, Paul Sturm at 195 and Joe Travagliante at 220. It was Kuchenrither’s second straight WSC title.
“It feels really good, especially coming back next year as a senior and trying to win a third one,” he said. “I knew I had to wrestle everyone like I was going to lose — I just put everything I had into every match.”
There were three state-ranked wrestlers in the field, and they all came away with championships.
Elyria Catholic’s Stan Bleich won the 113-pound title, Lakewood’s Yassir Abdelsalam won at 145 and Vermilion’s Mike Repko made a surprising run at 152. Repko’s performance wasn’t surprising because of his talent level, it was a shock to see him on the mat at all.
“The decision was that I wasn’t going to come back, but then I talked to my parents and they didn’t want me to have any regrets my senior year,” said Repko, who made the decision to return two weeks ago. “They knew that I could go to state and do good things there. It was different coming back because I’ve been injured for about six weeks — I was kind of nervous.”
Despite being a freshman facing a defending league champion, Bleich showed little anxiety during an impressive 7-1 victory over Rocky River’s Aaron Kelly.
“My main goal is to go down to state so I wasn’t really thinking about the conference tournament coming into the season, but it’s a cool win,” Bleich said. “Now I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing all year — work on wrestling, my setups, I’d like to get better on bottom … just trim off the rough edges before sectionals.”
The most dramatic final went to Elyria Catholic’s Jerot Schill and Bay’s Dom Ruma at 160 pounds. Head slaps, bull rushes and violent physicality was followed by an alleged biting … all before Schill landed a takedown at the edge of the mat in the closing seconds to secure a 7-6 victory and bring the home crowd to its feet.
“I was trying to hit a crossface, my hand slipped down and he ended up biting my three fingers across the knuckles,” said Schill, who retaliated later by clapping in Ruma’s face and was penalized a team point. “The ref didn’t see (the bite), so I didn’t get a (penalty) point … it happens.”
The Rangers finished with a pair of individual champions — Evan Collier at 120 pounds and Nick Bailey at 285. It was Bailey’s second consecutive WSC title, while Collier became the just seventh three-time WSC champion with his pin of Lakewood’s Will Rodriguez. He is the second North Ridgeville wrestler to accomplish the feat, following Mike Mees (2009-11).
“It definitely means a lot to me,” Collier said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of matches coming into this because of some nagging injuries. I stepped it up during practice and got a lot of support from my team and my coaches, so it was super exciting.”
Collier improved to 14-1 and was a Division I district qualifier last season, yet remains unranked and virtually unknown outside of Northeast Ohio — and he’s fine with that.
“I feel like that I’m going to be an unexpected person coming into (the postseason),” he said. “My name has not been around. Nobody’s saying anything about me, so I hope that I can prove that I deserve to be talked about.”
Eagles fans will be talking about Avon’s furious finish for awhile. The program’s first league title in 2012 was marred by a rules interpretation error. It was discovered that Midview actually finished with more points than Avon after the league tournament, but the Middies missed the deadline to make the correction.
“It is satisfying that there is no gray area (this time),” Porter said. “It’s an outright championship, not a shared one. It’s a great statement win for us.”
TEAM STANDINGS: Avon 157, North Ridgeville 132, Bay 128, Lakewood 114.5, Rocky River 76.5, Midview 67, Vermilion 66.5, Elyria Catholic 39.5.
106 — Championship: Kolin Carney (A) pinned Donovan Williams (L), 1:58. Third: Jake Bober (NR) wins by default.
113 — Championship: Stan Bleich (EC) dec. Aaron Kelly (RR), 7-1. Third: Max Bourque (A) maj. dec. Justin See (V), 12-0.
120 — Championship: Evan Collier (NR) pinned Will Rodriguez (L), 5:30. Third: Dan Mahoney (RR) dec. Frank Rizzo (A), 8-3.
126 — Championship: Vince Zitiello (B) dec. Brad Sprau (RR), 7-0. Third: Wil Kellar (NR) pinned Sam Taylor (M), 4:28.
132 — Championship: Max Kuchenrither (A) pinned Clarence Norris (L), 3:27. Third: Matt Smith (NR) pinned Josh Gabor (M), 3:35.
138 — Championship: Adam Kirresh (A) maj. dec. Nick Kubinski (B), 12-4. Third: Brent Ningard (NR) dec. Gino Giammarco (RR), 3-0.
145 — Championship: Yassir Abdelsalam (L) tech. fall Alec Forrer (M), 20-5. Third: Mark Campo (A) pinned Jackson Brill (B), 3:38.
152 — Championship: Mike Repko (V) dec. Colin Riley (NR), 3-2. Third: Sean Meaney (B) dec. Zach Deems (RR), 8-6.
160 — Championship: Jerot Schill (EC) dec. Dom Ruma (B), 7-6. Third: Travis Leopold (A) maj. dec. Travis Smith (RR), 14-5.
170 — Championship: Airren Robinson (L) dec. Ricky Godri (NR), 5-3 (OT). Third: Aaron Rice (V) pinned Spencer Berthold (M), 4:06.
182 — Championship: Cody Wright (B) pinned Talon Dorton (NR), 2:45. Third: Ryan Steinmentz (A) dec. Jimi Smith (RR), 5-2.
195 — Championship: Paul Sturm (A) tech. fall Cole Kaucheck (B), 17-2. Third: Grange Alves (L) dec. Mason Montgomery (V), 9-7 (OT).
220 — Championship: Joe Travagliante (A) dec. Anthony Strader (V), 3-1. Third: Tyson Davis (L) dec. Brendan Jatcek (M), 12-8.
285 — Championship: Nick Bailey (NR) pinned Mitch Hasman (M), :33. Third: Evan Chemielewski (B) dec. Roberto Sclimenti (L), 2-1.